The language used to describe relationships changes constantly. For young people these days, the terminology is getting pretty vague. So how do you talk to your adolescent children about their relationships?
Early relationships are a big part of how we figure out who we are and what we want from life. Many young people forming these early relationships will look to their parents for information and support… although maybe in a roundabout way.
But how can you be sure you’re offering the right kind of support unless you know what they’re talking about in the first place?
A new study has taken a closer look at the language young people use to define the dating process, and how this differs from what their parents’ generation understands .
Where, in the past, this was a clearly defined and ordered process - meet, flirt, date, hold hands, kiss, etc. - young people today are facing a lot more ambiguity in the way relationships are defined.
The study was set up to try and gain a better understanding of young people’s relationships to help improve support services, but it could also be useful for parents.
Results suggested that the language young people tend to use around relationships is not particularly well defined and could differ from one group of friends to the next. For some, dating means literally that – going out on dates together. For others, it could be attached to a casual hook-up, or a friends with benefits situation.
When young people seek their parents’ support, these blurred boundaries can create confusion, if there is a disconnect between the ways different generations label their relationships and emotions.
For example, if a young person comes to you and says they are having trouble with someone they’ve been dating, they could be talking about anything from a deep emotional connection to a casual sexual relationship. Be careful about making assumptions.
The next time you’re in a conversation with your own child about relationships, take a moment to establish what it is you’re talking about, and how they define the terms they’re using. It could make all the difference to the support you’re able to offer.
 Rochelle L. Rowley & Jodie L. Hertzog (2016): From Holding Hands to Having a Thing to Hooking Up: Framing Heterosexual Youth Relationships, Marriage & Family Review